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Supreme Court rules on Trump immunity, delaying trial

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that Donald Trump enjoys some immunity from prosecution as a former president, a ruling that will likely delay his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

Chris Lefkow
01 July 2024, MVT 22:53
A view of the US Supreme Court on July 1, 2024, in Washington, DC. Donald Trump on Monday hailed a "big win" for democracy after the US Supreme Court ruled that presidents have presumptive immunity for official acts -- a decision set to delay his trial for conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss. (Photo by Drew ANGERER / AFP)
Chris Lefkow
01 July 2024, MVT 22:53

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that Donald Trump enjoys some immunity from prosecution as a former president, a ruling that will likely delay his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

The 6-3 decision split along ideological lines comes four months ahead of the presidential election in which Trump is the Republican candidate to take on Democrat Joe Biden.

The historic case was the last heard during the top court's current term and has far-reaching implications for executive power and the White House race.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, said a president is "not above the law" but does have "absolute immunity" from criminal prosecution for official acts taken while in office.

"The president therefore may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled, at a minimum, to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts," Roberts said.

"As for a President's unofficial acts, there is no immunity," the chief justice added, sending the case back to a lower court to determine which of the charges facing Trump involve official or unofficial conduct.

Both a District Court and a three-judge appeals court panel had previously rejected Trump's immunity claims.

The District Court will now hold what is expected to be a series of lengthy pre-trial hearings, making a trial before the November White House vote extremely unlikely.

Trump is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States as well as obstruction of an official proceeding -- the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress held to certify Biden's victory.

The 78-year-old former president is also charged with conspiracy to deny Americans the right to vote and to have their votes counted.

'Fear for our democracy'

The three liberal justices dissented from Monday's ruling with Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying she was doing so "with fear for our democracy."

"Never in the history of our Republic has a President had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law," Sotomayor said. "In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law."

"Orders the Navy's Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune," she said.

Trump, in a post on Truth Social, welcomed the ruling calling it a "big win for our Constitution and democracy."

Biden's reelection campaign team countered that Trump "thinks he's above the law."

Trump's original trial date in the election subversion case had been March 4.

But the Supreme Court -- dominated by conservatives, including three appointed by Trump -- agreed in February to hear his argument for absolute presidential immunity, putting the case on hold while they considered the matter in April.

'Drag on more and more'

Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, said the ruling "simply means that this case is going to drag on more and more and longer and longer and well beyond the election."

"To the extent that Trump was trying to drag his feet and extend this beyond the election, he has succeeded wildly," Schwinn said.

He said the opinion also provides a "roadmap" for a president to avoid prosecution for a particular action "simply by intertwining it with official government action."

"That's going to seriously hamstring the prosecution of a former president because the president's official actions and unofficial actions are so often intertwined," he said.

Facing four criminal cases, Trump has been doing everything in his power to delay the trials until after the election.

Trump was convicted in New York in May of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal in the final stages of the 2016 campaign, making him the first former US president ever convicted of a crime.

His sentencing will take place on July 11.

By filing a blizzard of pre-trial motions, Trump's lawyers have managed to put on hold the three other trials, which deal with his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and hoarding top-secret documents at his home in Florida.

If reelected, Trump could, once sworn in as president in January 2025, order the federal cases against him closed.

© Agence France-Presse

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